When Rubber Meets Road
By Russ Levanway, CEO
So you’ve identified your company’s mission. Now, are you ready to defend it?
As times have changed, a lot of what we buy has a very limited lifespan and is not easy to repair. “They don’t make it like they used to” is actually quite accurate. The phone in your pocket is meant to die in three years. The computer on your desk becomes obsolete in three to five. Whereas refrigerators were once built to last 40 years, now they run for seven to eight. Pop the hood on any modern car or truck and you’ll find an opaque cluster of electronics and plastic, impossible to penetrate or understand.
Just recently, Kyle Wiens and Luke Soules of iFixit in San Luis Obispo were featured in Inc. Magazine for defending the radical idea that consumers have the right to repair their own electronic devices. iFixit, which brings in over $23 million in revenue and has customers across the globe, began as a source for consumer device repair manuals, but Kyle and Luke learned early that convincing people to purchase repair manuals isn’t easy when so much information is available for free online. Instead, they supplemented manuals with offers for replacement parts, toolkits, and specialized bits to perform repair work. Thus, iFixit evolved to become a very large supplier of spare parts and toolkits and parlayed that into a hugely successful business.
Kyle and Luke didn’t get into fix-it culture to make money; they’re both tinkerers by nature and espouse a strong belief in the “right to repair” [manifesto here]. They believe that, as the purchaser of a piece of equipment or hardware, a person has the right to do with that item what they like, including repair work. But when manufacturers fail to provide information about their products’ inner workings, simple repair jobs become impossible to solve without expensive help or engaging in a tedious and wasteful upgrade cycle. As a result of the iFixit mission – to empower the owners of consumer devices to make their own repairs – perfectly usable iPhones aren’t sent to the landfill for minimal issues like a cracked screen. And, by extension, consumers aren’t always calling up the Apple Store to have their simple repairs made in Apple’s prescribed, cloaked, and very expensive way.
I’ve been inspired by a couple things Kyle and Luke have done. They have a really compelling mission that’s clear and easy to articulate: they advocate for the right to repair and give customers the tools with which to do it. But, at an even deeper level, I really admire the way iFixit has defended their mission.
Protect and Defend
Doing the right thing – like empowering people to repair their own electronics – doesn’t always endear a company to other businesses or people. Apple strongly dislikes iFixit, for obvious reasons; as a massive, multi-billion-dollar entity, they are constantly at loggerheads with iFixit. Apple doesn’t want to make it easy for consumers to service their devices – they want it to be difficult. They want to make a lot of money repairing devices in their own stores or encouraging folks to buy new ones.
Currently, legislators in eight states are looking over bills that prohibit manufacturers from closing off consumers’ ability to repair their own device. Apple, of course, is fighting legal proxy in all eight states to keep those bills from passing: all because a little company in San Luis Obispo believed in fixing their own stuff.
Rallying the Troops
In our field of information and technology, specific organizations can help support the “right to repair” bills. One such group is CompTIA, a large organization with a lobbying arm related to technology. CompTIA hasn’t taken a stance to support the right to repair because they don’t see many people advocating for it. Our answer, however, is that while the voices may be few, an entire movement lies behind them – a movement of those who believe that if we can’t control what we own through service and repair, consumer appliances quickly become black boxes. If we lose our ability to troubleshoot, resolve, and fix, we’re forced into an upgrade cycle and into paying for things we don’t need.
This is fast becoming an issue nationwide; and in every state where legislation is introduced, iFixit is trying to get involved. They’re not lobbyists, by design (which is why professional support from an organization like CompTIA would make a big impact) but their mission guides their every move, including the move to turn into the adversity they face.
Is your mission bulletproof? Is it something you and your staff believes in? Are you prepared to defend your company’s mission in the face of challenges and naysayers?